How do we know what we know?

Posted on August 5th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


How do we know what we know?

This is a big question. It’s bigger than big. It’s enormous.

So how do you tackle a question like that? A conference seems like a logical place to start. In July, the Visitor Studies Association (VSA) hosted its annual conference in Detroit Michigan titled “Ways of Knowing.” This question, “How do we know what we know?” was the question that the keynote speaker, Dr. Katrina Bledsoe, opened the conference with before diving into contemporary thoughts in the field of evaluation.

Conferences are exciting places. They harvest intriguing questions and ignite new ideas. They are a place to share success stories and struggles that happened along the way. They are places for learning. While I couldn’t attend The VSA conference in person, thanks to a new green initiative by the VSA, I attended their first-ever virtual conference. Like all conferences, there was more discussed than could possibly be written about in one blog post.

What is the Visitor Studies Association? As described on their website, VSA is “a membership organization dedicated to understanding and enhancing learning experiences in informal settings through research, evaluation, and dialogue.” So, what are informal learning settings? That’s us, JMM. Along with other museums, nature centers, historic sites, visitor centers, and zoos.

To learn from other organizations about their applications of evaluation, you have to learn about the projects they evaluated. I heard from lots of organizations that have recently undertaken interesting projects (Along with the great ways they are using evaluation to learn from them). Here’s are two examples:

“Studying Touch as a Way of Knowing in the Art Exhibition” researched how touch can be a method of interpretation for visitors interacting with artwork, specifically sculpture. The project monitored visitors’ encounters (through video recording) with artwork in the exhibit Evighetens Form (Eternity’s Form) by the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, Norway (2016 – 2019). This project added to previous research on multi-sensory meaning-making processes. Listening to the findings of their study, I particularly enjoyed an unexpected outcome they had – visitors would going beyond gentle touching of the sculptures at times and knock on the sculptures for solidity, determining the material, and the sound that was produced.

Dr. Navaz DBhavnagri from Wayne State University spoke about “Using Museums to Promote Cultural Identity Among Yemeni Students.” This project explored how museums are places that can promote and enhance cultural identity. Working with Muslim Yemeni immigrant and refugee students across multiple visits to the Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as pre-visit and post-visit sessions, students were encouraged to make connections and express their cultural identity. Before visiting the Museum, students did a self-report on what they know and what they wanted to know. Visits to the Museum progressed with different activities. First, they went and took pictures throughout the exhibit writing comments back in the classroom about their photos and how they connected to what they took pictures of. This visit introduced students to the museum environment. Their second visit was a scavenger hunt to encourage more focused engagement with the exhibit. Their third visit encouraged them to select an object to sketch. This object needed to relate to their cultural identity. They needed to think about why they chose that object. What special meaning did it have? How was it connected to their cultural identity? This resulted in a more complex reflection and the students creating an intersection between their personal life and their cultural identity. After each visit, students would debrief their experience. They created art projects that integrated their knowledge. They considered what they learned and what new questions they have now. During this year-long projects, these students were also learning English, so translators were critical to assisting the project. At the end of the project, students presented their object and story to other students and teachers outside of their class – sharing not only their cultural identity, but their new language skills. All the materials produced through the project (photos taken with comments, collages, sketches, reflections, and presentations) were used to evaluate the project. Students moved beyond seeing the objects as “just old” to how they overlap with their own lives.

The Detroit Institute of Art has a strong collection of Arts of the Ancient Middle East and Arts of the Islamic World that students explored during their visits.

While each speaker highlighted a specific project, throughout the entire conference the theme of equity was present. How do we promote equitable evaluation? Equity, in the simplest of definitions, means fair access. Each person has access regardless of economic resources or personal traits. Every person has the right to be given equal treatment by the system.

Evaluation is often thought of as being objective. But we need to consider the ways our methodologies are shaped by underlying values. We need to consider different cultural and historical views. We need to make our research findings accessible. While measuring if the goals of a project are being met, we need to consider if the project developed in a culturally responsive way? Whose reality are we representing? Whose voice? Whose experiences?

The Detroit Zoo wanted to engage with audiences that weren’t coming to the zoo (even when offered free admission). They wanted to work with individuals who found themselves homeless and therefore needed to think about the barriers that were preventing people from visiting. When speaking about their project and evaluation, they said that evaluation for their team at the Detroit Zoo means continuously asking, “are we valuable? What is valuable about what we are doing?” The team constantly looks at communities in their neighborhood and asking who are the voices that they don’t reach and what do those communities need?

So, how do we know what we know?

We evaluate. And this takes many forms at JMM. Evaluation is not a one-size-fits-all tool. Especially when thinking about how to be equitable during the process. For the big picture, we want to make sure that what we are doing is valuable. That all our exhibits and programs reflect our mission. We seek to learn about our impact and the quality of experience we offer.

Evaluation can come to us informally through conversations, emails, and phone calls. For projects, (whether it is a public program, school group, or exhibit) we try to make evaluation part of the process.

Intern Hannah spoke with visitors about their experiences in Fashion Statement recently.

Recently, JMM’s Visitor Services Coordinator, Talia, shared how our FY2019 visitor numbers are one way that we evaluate our success. We also evaluate using surveys after public programs, or post-it notes with school groups and by observation. This summer our interns have been conducting surveys for our Fashion Statement exhibit. We are interested to see if visitors are making connections to the learning objectives we set out for the exhibit. Or, as I mentioned previously, what unexpected outcomes we may find.

So when our interns and staff are in the orientation space with clipboards asking if you would take a few minutes to fill out a form, or chat with them about your experiences, it is not just to collect data that will sit on a shelf with a checkmark beside it. It is because we genuinely want to know about you, what brought you here, how you did (or did not) connect with our exhibits. Your answers inform our decisions. We learn from them. They help us find ways so that you, the visitor, can “find yourself here.”

Conferences are inspiring. I am positive that the things I learned will trickle into projects at JMM. You can read the abstracts from all the VSA conference sessions here.


 

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So Much More Than a Number

Posted on July 12th, 2019 by

I asked the newest member of our team to write this month’s edition of Performance Counts. In her post, Visitor Services Coordinator Talia Makowsky, not only shares our phenomenal FY19 visitor numbers, but illustrates one of the reasons for our success- the incredibly dedicated and thoughtful staff we have assembled. ~Marvin. To read past editions of Performance Counts, click here. To read more posts from Talia, click here.


For some people, summer means a break a from school, or a chance to hit the beach, or chowing down at a cookout. For me, this summer has been full of learning all about the Jewish Museum, and the numbers that keep us operational and successful.

At first glance, the statistics part of my role, as Visitor Services Coordinator, doesn’t seem so exciting. I have to keep track of how many people visit each day, how many go on tours, how many come in a group and so on. It’s a part of my job that may not seem all that appealing, but in my six months at JMM, I have come to appreciate the significance of every check mark I’ve recorded.

Each number is a person who chose to spend their time and their money engaging in our stories. One number is someone learning about the history of Jonestown, where they may have lived all these years but never knew about the immigrant community. Another number is someone stepping into a synagogue for the first time. Many of the numbers are school children, engaging with their learning in a new way.

These numbers are more than just how many people walked through our doors. They’re the experiences people had at our Museum. They’re people who’ve come for the first time, or are coming back again and again, because they feel that our stories are worth supporting, sharing, and learning. Please join me in celebrating these numbers and appreciating every person who chose us as their storyteller this year.

We had plenty of unique stories to tell this year, including the stories from our Jewish Refugees and Shanghai exhibit.

If you’re not familiar with how we keep track of our statistics, here’s a quick overview.  These numbers come from our past fiscal year, July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. This is Fiscal Year 2019, or FY19. And it was one of the biggest ones we’ve had at our Museum.This last year we had over 15,000 people visit the Museum! This number represents the total onsite visitors, or the total amount of people who stepped foot onto our campus. This number exceeds our previous fiscal year, which was over 10,800 people. In fact, this number beats out our records going back to at least  FY11, the earliest year when we have a comparable method of counting.  We believe this may be the biggest year on record for the Jewish Museum’s onsite visitors, which includes general attendance, school groups, adult groups, public programs, rentals, and teacher trainings/workshops.

One of the reasons why we had such a magical year was because of our Houdini exhibit, which was open from June 2018 through January 2019. However, the momentum from Houdini didn’t leave when the exhibit did, to travel around. Our other exhibits this year, Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, My Family Story, and Fashion Statement and Stitching History from the Holocaust continued to attract visitors, with 5,890 people marked for general admission.

We loved showing off our style with our Fashion Statement exhibit, on view until September 15th!

We had 3,553 students and educators join us for those exhibits, as well as for our general education programming. This included visits to the Houdini exhibit, our Intro to Judaism program, and much more. With our Jewish Refugees in Shanghai exhibit, we were able to reach out to a whole new audience of learners, some of whom were studying Chinese, and could read both the English and Chinese sides of the exhibit panels!

Our educators love working with students to teach them about Jewish history in Maryland and beyond. Most of time, we end up learning from the students too!

The kids weren’t the only ones who had some fun learning in our Museum. We had 1,034 people visit in adult groups as well this year. These groups had a chance to find a connection not only with the Museum, but with their friends as well. Our adult groups experienced magic, laughter, and learning in our exhibits and tours, and we look forward to welcoming them back in the new fiscal year.Along with those exhibits, we had exciting programs to entice and educate our visitors. With over 50 public programs, we had a wide range of topics and activities to entice the 3,776 people who attended them! With programs ranging from book talks to seances, bake-offs to Sephardic musical performances, we had plenty of things to do last year. Of course, the fun doesn’t stop just because it’s hot out! We already have programs planned through November, so make sure to keep an eye on our Events page!

We had a grand and spooky time last Halloween, with our Houdini Séance. We hope to continue having fun with you all this year! – Photo courtesy of Will Kirk.

With so many things to do and exhibits to see at the Museum, it’s no surprise that we’re attracting people from all over. While 17% of our visitors’ hail from nearby Baltimore City and Baltimore county, this year we had 116 people visit us from other countries. These countries included Singapore, New Zealand, Poland, the UK, France, and Canada, showing us that our Museum is a destination worth traveling for in any direction!These amazing numbers this year represent more than just the success of our marketing, program planning, and outreach. These numbers are the thousands of people who have chosen to visit our Museum to listen to the stories we collect and share with our audience. Each number is a person thinking more deeply about history, whether their own Jewish history or a new culture they’ve never encountered before. Each number is someone opening their mind and their heart to our community, here in Jonestown, and we’re honored by every single one.

Thank you to everyone who visited this past fiscal year, to make FY19 a success. Please continue attending our programs, checking out our exhibits, and supporting us as members, so that we can keep sharing these incredible stories.

~Talia


Not yet a member – or know someone who you think should join the family? Share this link and help grow the family today!


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Postcards for Paige: The Final Edition

Posted on March 22nd, 2019 by

As our regular readers are aware, in recent years we’ve dedicated one of our monthly newsletters each quarter to tongue-in-cheek “correspondence” between our visitor services coordinator and our visitors. This started with Dear Abby (Abby Krolik) and then Greetings Graham (Graham Humphrey) and most recently Postcards for Paige (Paige Woodhouse).  Paige was recently promoted, but we persuaded her to draft one last newsletter before she left her old job behind. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


Dear Paige:

At mahjong last week my sister’s best friend was telling me that her nephew’s art was being displayed at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and they had attended a packed reception for it! What’s this My Family Story project and how do I get my grandchildren involved in the next one?

~Mahjong Mima

Dear Mima,

The My Family Story program is a fun-filled, meaningful, and multigenerational Jewish journey to the past, where students’ exploration of their Jewish family story culminates in an artistic project. In partnership with the Beit Hatfusot, the Museum of the Jewish People, the JMM has displayed these projects for the last five years! The projects are judged and those selected from each school are entered into Beit Hatfutsot’s international competition.

If you are interested in having your grandchildren involved next year, please tell your community about this great program – especially your grandkid’s Jewish Day or Congregational School. We would love to have more students from our local community get involved! You can also reach out to our Director of Learning and Visitor Experience, Ilene Dackman-Alon, to learn more about the project.

You only have until this Sunday (the 24th) to come and celebrate with us these students’ creativity, stories, and hard work! Don’t miss out! And share your family’s story in our comment book!

~Paige


Hey Paige,

From fashion design majors to material culture minors, the fashion-savvy community on my college campus has been abuzz with news that the next exhibit at the JMM features clothing. Is this rumor true?

~Textile-Trendy Tabitha

Hi Trendy!

The rumors are true. But it gets better – we don’t just have one new exhibit – we have two!

Stitching History From the Holocaust (April 7th to August 4th) on loan to us from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, brings to life the innovative dress designs of Hedy Strnad, a Czech Jew who tried and failed to use her fashion design skills to escape the Nazis. Hedy’s dress designs were sent to her cousin in Milwaukee in attempt to gain passage to the United States. While this effort failed, her memory lives on in her sketches and letters. The Jewish Museum Milwaukee worked with the Costume Shop of Milwaukee Repertory Theatre to create the dresses from Hedy’s sketches. This exhibit serves as a touchstone for discussion of the human cost of the Holocaust and the plight of refugee populations.

On display concurrently is an original exhibit created by the Jewish Museum of Maryland titled Fashion Statement (April 7th to September 15th). This exhibit explores the messages we send – both subtle and overt – about ourselves through the clothes we wear. This exhibit will encourage you to think more deeply about the messages embedded in articles of clothing.

We have a great line-up of public programs to accompany them. Lots of these programs start at 1:00pm on Sundays (giving lots of time to sleep in on your weekend).

Please keep that buzz on campus alive and share the news. I can’t wait to see you in April.

~Paige


Paige,

I’ve been seeing a new face at the Front Desk of the Museum recently. Who’s the new kid on the block?

~Observant Omar

You don’t miss a beat, Observant! The JMM team is delighted to have a new Visitor Services Coordinator, Talia Makowsky. The next time you come into the Museum, please give her a warm welcome and introduce yourself.

With a new face at the front, there will also be a new answerer to all your quirky Museum-related questions. Talia will be taking over Postcards for Paige as it becomes Lloyd Street Letters. I am leaving you in great hands!

~Paige

PS. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone far! I have started a new role at the JMM as the School Program Coordinator. So please don’t be a stranger when you drop by this spring to see our new fabulous fashion exhibits.


Missed any previous editions of JMM Insights? You can catch up here!


 

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